On blogging: Why we turned off comments

by James Glazebrook

The more observant of you will have noticed that we’ve turned off comments here on überlin.

Maybe you found you couldn’t enter a competition, because I’d forgotten to turn comments back on in those rare cases where we still allow them. Perhaps you were particularly incensed by the latest thing this expat/hipster/douchebag/gentrifier/all-of-the-above had written. Or you might just have been wanting to tell us how much you love us, but couldn’t. Well, here’s why.

Firstly, and most obviously, internet comments are infamously terrible. Sure, most of our commenters have been very supportive and positive, but a minority have split hairs, gone on inexplicable tangents, ranted, singled us out to blame for the (inevitable) changes happening to Berlin, and one even told us in no uncertain terms: go home.

The main reason for this shittiness is that people aren’t accountable when they’re anonymous. If no one knows who you are, you can be as hateful, reactionary, incoherent and misinformed as you like.

Of course, we ask commenters to provide their names and email addresses, but we have no way of verifying this. Even if we used something like Facebook login to verify people’s identities, the Zuckerberg dodgers could use their invented FB names to shroud themselves in semi-secrecy. Besides, even if we could achieve total transparency and accountability with comments, we’re not sure that we should be insisting that people, especially Germans, share their personal data in this way.

So, given a choice between anonymous comments and no comments, we went with the latter.

Another reason for switching off comments is that we’re no longer focused on producing content that provokes comment. Depending on your perspective, we used to be great at/notorious for hilarious/reductive observations/stereotypes about Germans and Germany, and at times, we’ve been guilty of full-on trolling. These days, however, we’re more interested in showing off Zoë’s beautiful photos of places, people and their dogs, and getting to the heart of what inspires the creatives who call Berlin their home.

This is great content, and we think it’s very shareable, but it doesn’t require your input. If you like something, great – feel free to share it with others on Twitter, Facebook, email or whatever. If you don’t like it, that’s fine too – just look away.

And that brings us to the final reason we turned off comments. We received too many comments like “this comedy piece on going to a German supermarket doesn’t discuss the impact of LIDL’s pricing policies overseas”, which could all be translated as: “I’m annoyed that this article isn’t about something else that I’d rather be reading”. I found myself arguing with these people, then trashing their comments (as they were about an entirely different subject than the article, they weren’t relevant), and then deciding: we don’t need this.

As content producers, we accept the fact that we’re doing all this for free. We run überlin for love, not money, and the fact that our content is kostenlos allows it to reach far more people than it would have in the days before a free, open, democratic(ish) Internet. The problem with this is that people don’t always value what they get for free. And if it isn’t exactly what they wanted to see, they’ll be sure to tell you. I wonder if the editors from Lawnmower Monthly receive letters saying “Dear Sir/Madam, I bought your magazine and was disappointed to find absolutely no photos of monkeys riding motorcycles…”?

The point is: everyone absolutely has the right to their opinion. They just don’t have the right to make people listen to it. We spent five years building this site, filling it with content and growing its readership. If you don’t like something on the site, by all means tell the Twitter followers you earned through your own hard work – hell, tell us. But you don’t get to take the megaphone out of our hands and use it to broadcast your own opinions, while hiding behind the mask of anonymity.

Hence (with a few exceptions): no more comments here on überlin. In the month or so that we’ve been without comments, we haven’t missed them at all. We still get plenty of feedback via social media, and we’re always thankful for that. If you have any comments about this post, or anything else we’re doing, hit us up on Facebook  and Twitter. The (on-site) comments are dead; long live the (off-site) comments!